IOWA CITY, Iowa – Before the season, I wrote a column listing 10 things that had to happen, or not happen, in order for the Iowa football team to be successful.
It was a wide range of things, from key players having to stay healthy to Iowa having to rush for a certain amount of yards as a team.
I figured the team would be fortunate to achieve maybe half of what was on the list. But like so many others, I underestimated the 2015 Hawkeyes and veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz, who is leading yet another resurgence.
Here are the 10 categories that I listed before the season and where Iowa stands in regard to each category after seven games. To say that the Hawkeyes with records of 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten are meeting the challenge would be an understatement.
1. C.J. Beathard must avoid injury: So far, so good, but not without a lot of pain and sacrifice. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time with Beathard aching almost from head to toe. Iowa’s junior quarterback needs rest more than anything else right now. Beathard often puts his body at risk with his aggressive playing style, but that aggressiveness is also part of what makes him special as a quarterback.
2. Iowa has to average at least 200 rushing yards per game: Senior Jordan Canzeri and sophomore Akrum Wadley achieved that total on their own against Illinois and Northwestern, respectively. Iowa is averaging 214.4 rushing yards per game and a very respectable 5.0 yards per carry this season.
That’s a significant improvement from last season when Iowa averaged 163.1 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry as a team.
3. Beathard has to throw for at least 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns: He is averaging 202 passing yards per game, which translates to 2,424 yards over the course of 12 games. Beathard also has thrown nine touchdown passes. So in both cases, his statistics are close enough to say that he is meeting these two statistical goals.
4. Iowa’s opponents have to average fewer than 150 rushing yards per game, while also surrendering at least 30 sacks: Maybe the only thing more impressive than Iowa’s rushing offense after seven games is its rushing defense. The Hawkeyes are well on their way to achieving both of these statistical goals, with opponents only averaging 74.1 rushing yards per game, while also having surrendered 22 sacks.
With all due respect to Beathard, Iowa’s dominance in the trenches is at the heart of this latest resurgence under Ferentz.
5. Two of the five linebackers competing for playing time – Bo Bower, Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, Cole Fisher and Travis Perry – have to perform at least at honorable mention all-Big Ten level: Linebacker is my choice for the most improved position on the team from last season. The turnaround since the TaxSlayer Bowl debacle has been stunning.
Jewell, Niemann and Fisher emerged as the three starters after an intense competition during spring practice. Jewell has found a home at middle linebacker where his intensity and physicality fit perfectly with the position. Fisher leads Iowa with 61 tackles, saving his best for last as a fifth-year senior who played sparingly before this season. Jewell is second on the team with 56 tackles, while Niemann might be the best among the three starting linebackers at playing in space.
You could make a strong case that any of the three linebackers deserve some kind of all-Big Ten recognition.
6. Whoever wins the punting job between Dillon Kidd, Marshall Koehn and Colten Rastetter has to average at least 42 yards per attempt: Kidd is my choice for the most improved player on the team. He is averaging 44.8 yards on 27 attempts this season after averaging just 38.5 yards per punt last season.
Kidd’s ability to shift field position has been a huge factor in Iowa’s success.
7. First-year starting offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger have to be serviceable at worst: Myers and Boettger both were meeting that challenge before being sidelined by injuries. It sounds as if Myers will be ready for the Oct. 31 game against Maryland, whereas Boettger’s status is more uncertain.
Fourth-year junior backup Cole Croston has filled in admirably at left tackle, well enough to where it’s been hard to notice any decline at that position. Sophomore Sean Welsh also performed well at right tackle against Northwestern last Saturday after switching from guard.
Overall, the tackles have been better than serviceable. So mark this down as yet another goal that’s being met.
8. Marshall Koehn has to convert on at least 80 percent of his field-goal attempts, while making all of his point-after kicks: The former walk-on from Solon has made 10-of-12 field-goal attempts this season, including the legendary 57-yarder that beat Pittsburgh as time expired on Sept. 19 at Kinnick Stadium.
But Koehn also has missed three point-after kicks, including one that missed badly against Northwestern last Saturday, after making all 38 of his point-after kicks last season. Iowa will need all the points it can get as it tries to stay undefeated.
9. Iowa has to be ranked among the top seven teams in the conference in both red zone offense and red zone defense: Iowa is ranked third in the conference in red zone defense, but only 11th in red zone offense. The low ranking on offense is sort of misleading, though, because Iowa and Wisconsin lead the conference with each having scored 20 touchdowns in the red zone.
10. Senior receiver Tevaun Smith has to have at least 45 catches for no fewer than 700 yards and five touchdowns: A knee injury, along with being doubled-team early in the season likely will keep Smith from reaching these two totals.
Matt VandeBerg, on the other hand, is poised to do both. The sure-handed junior already has 41 catches in seven games for 391 yards and two touchdowns. It doesn’t matter who achieves the numbers as long as somebody does.